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Former White House Correspondent Remembers Ronald Reagan At Late President's Birthday Celebration

Former ABC White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson speaks at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley as part of late President's 106th birthday celebration

For eight years, he was the reporter known for asking President Ronald Reagan the tough questions.

Former ABC White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson says people who didn’t support Reagan approved of his aggressive questioning. On the other hand, Donaldson says Reagan’s fans thought he was a vicious, mad dog.

Hundreds of people braved the rain to show up at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley to hear the longtime newsman talk about his years covering Reagan, at a celebration of the late President’s 106th birthday.

Donaldson says many people were skeptical of the actor turn politician took office after being elected in 1980. He says two things changed that. Less than four months into his first term, the President was the target of an assassination attempt outside of a Washington, D.C. hotel. He says even during the assassination crisis, Reagan showed the humor which endeared him to many Americans, telling Nancy Reagan at the hospital that he forgot to duck, and joking to doctors about to operate on him that he hoped they were Republicans.

He says the other thing which impressed many skeptical Americans was Reagan’s handling of a massive strike by federal workers which threatened to cripple air traffic. In 1981, the President took the politically dangerous move of angering unions by firing 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

Donaldson admits as a reporter, there was no one better to cover than Reagan because the former President would speak his mind, which sometimes got him in trouble. The reporter asked Reagan at his first news conference after taking office about his views of the Soviet Union, leading to a tirade in which the President called the Soviets liars and cheaters, and said that Marxism would end up on the ash heap of history.

He says even when the president would fumble something, he’d often fix it with a quip. One of his favorite soundbites came from when the late President was asked about his work ethic, and he replied that while hard work never killed anyone, why take a chance?

It’s a birthday celebration with many of the Reagan’s friends and boosters on hand, so Donaldson only briefly touched on perhaps the darkest moment of the Reagan presidency, the Iran-Contra scandal. Donaldson says while Reagan eventually apologized, the journalists believes that the late President still believed he was doing the right thing in secretly selling weapons to Iran in an effort to free some American hostages in the Mideast.

He says when he is asked about how he remembers Reagan, it’s as an actor who played the greatest role of his life, and was able to get people to follow him.

The ceremony was followed by the laying of a wreath from the White House on the final resting place of the late President, and Nancy Reagan, which is on a hillside terrace at the Presidential library. Ronald Reagan died in 2004, at the age of 93.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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